In the fall of 2000, more than four hundred Hamburg residents gathered at a town summit to discuss the definition and importance of strong character, and to develop a community-wide character initiative program. The goal of this first meeting was to generate an action plan to ‘create a culture of character’ in the Town of Hamburg. A community service organization devoted to the encouragement of good character was born.
A nine-member Board of Directors was selected to design the structure of the organization, set its objectives, and plan activities. The following committees were suggested to reach all segments of the community—Business/Civic, Education, Faith, Government, and Media/Public Relations. In July of 2001, the organization became officially incorporated and a year later obtained 501(c)3 not-for-profit status.
Quietly, yet forcefully, the Character Council of Hamburg strove to establish its credibility as a vibrant community organization. Most visible were the virtue posters displayed monthly in schools, churches, businesses, and town and village buildings. Residents became familiar with the gold star trademark, the Character Council’s logo, and began to understand the mission of the organization. Conversations centered on the meaning of each character quality, one virtue at a time.
Recognition and support came from Village, Town, and national leaders. In 2003, the Character Council was the recipient of a Civic Empowerment Award from the Buffalo/Niagara All-America City Committee. A United States House of Representatives Proclamation was issued through the effort of then-Congressman Jack Quinn. Hamburg’s community-wide initiative was presented to an international audience in Oklahoma City and highlighted in Character Matters, a book written by Thomas Lickona, Ph.D., an internationally-acclaimed, character-development expert. The concept of a community-supported character initiative began to gain momentum and grow in depth and scope as each success along the way was realized.
In 2008, a twelve member Board of Directors approved a three-year strategic plan, which enabled the Character Council to initiate new character-focused programs to serve the community.
Champions for Character, an ambassador program for character excellence, engages respected community leaders to help foster the expansion of character development programs.
In March of 2009, the Council introduced its first annual Character Week, highlighted by a Character Carnival and a ‘Creating a Culture of Character Conference.’ The Carnival promoted family-friendly fun while teaching about individual character qualities. The Character Conference featured nationally-renowned speakers on character excellence addressing audiences from all community sectors. In 2010, the Character Council began a benevolent outreach to provide scholarships to the conference for school districts in struggling urban and rural communities throughout the WNY Region.
Integrity In Action, a community-driven program, recognizes individuals and/or organizations that have consistently demonstrated the character quality of the month. All citizens are invited to participate in the nomination process.
Champions for CHANGE: Character Has A Noble Goal… Excellence!, a youth leadership program, encourages youth to take a stand for character excellence. This program formalizes a youth component to champion good character, encouraging youth to help lead the charge for creating a culture of character through the initiation of character councils within their high schools. The focus is to give a voice to teens regarding the expectation to strive for character excellence, thereby encouraging youth to become genuine character mentors.
The Character Chase 5K made its debut as the Character Council’s first fundraiser in July of 2010. This event, designed to bring additional prominence to the quest for character excellence, also serves to highlight the importance of physical activity and personal fitness as an appropriate complement to overall wellness… spirit, mind and body.
In 2011, the Character Council of Hamburg, Inc. began doing business as the Character Council of Western New York. Our strategic plan was revised to encompass the greater Western New York region. Many towns and villages have joined in our mission to ‘create a culture of character’ in their communities. Our list of member schools stands at fifty-six in eighteen communities and is expected to increase. We have partnered with the Orchard Park School District to host or support two Anti-bullying Conferences this past fall. We have engaged prominent local and national presenters for our 2012 Spring Conference. The Character Council looks forward to future partnerships with community organizations to share our mission and promote good character in the Western New York Region and beyond.